Old and New Mingle in Fort Lauderdale

Learn about three individuals who helped shape Fort Lauderdale in the last two decades.

Fort Lauderdale is a young city in many ways and its future is still being shaped by the thousands of new residents who move here every year. Even as schools are built, classroom space is being added. High rises share neighborhoods with historic homes and long-time business owners welcome newcomers at chamber meetings.

Many individuals have helped shape Fort Lauderdale in the last 100 years, but it is in the last couple of decades that there has been a major leap forward. From the economy to tourism to downtown revitalization, these three individuals contributed greatly to the changing image and development of Fort Lauderdale:

H. Wayne Huizenga: Supporting the Local Economy

Fort Lauderdale is home to one of the only individuals in history to build three Fortune 1000 companies and own three professional sports teams (all in South Florida). There is perhaps no other single individual who has shaped Fort Lauderdale as much as H. Wayne Huizenga. His name is on parks, buildings and at the Huizenga School of Business on the campus of nearby Nova Southeastern University.

From Waste Management Services to Blockbuster Video and AutoNation, he is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our era. As owner or part owner of the Florida Marlins baseball team, Miami Dolphins football team and the Florida Panthers hockey team, he has brought new dollars and jobs to the region and stimulated the local economy, not to mention provided fodder for sports talk show hosts.

His generosity and contributions to the community as well as the personal involvement of he and his wife Marti in local volunteer programs has shaped Fort Lauderdale into the vibrant city it is today.

Nikki Grossman: Shedding the Spring Break Image

As president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors' Bureau, Nikki Grossman has been the point person for the change of Fort Lauderdale's image from college spring break destination to an upscale community for visitors and residents. Grossman says what she thinks, even if feathers get ruffled. She never seems to tire of hammering home her belief that Fort Lauderdale is the best place in the world to live and to visit.

There are convention and visitor bureau presidents, and then there is Grossman, a local resident who has stayed the course to change her community. Through strategic planning and continuous marketing programs, Grossman has stayed on task in making Fort Lauderdale a year-round destination and a community unique in the world.

Kitty Ryan: Breathing Life Back Into Downtown

Twenty years ago, Fort Lauderdale's downtown was pretty much like downtowns everywhere. The development of suburban malls had drawn businesses and entertainment venues away from the urban areas. Las Olas Boulevard's boutique shops and trendy restaurants pretty much closed on weekends and in the off-season. Surrounding neighborhoods had fallen into disrepair.

Ryan had an idea to open a Jazz and Blues Club on Las Olas, but she had to convince the city to allow sidewalk tables. O'Hara's Jazz & Blues Cafe was opened in 1989 and until new development forced her to close her doors in 2008, locals and residents flocked to hear the hottest sounds in town.

The flood gates opened on Las Olas after her success and the image of downtown Fort Lauderdale was changed for good. Today, music pours out onto the street from clubs and restaurants and diners sit at sidewalk tables day and night. The surrounding neighborhoods made a comeback. Fort Lauderdale is closer than ever to being the 24-hour, pedestrian community envisioned by local leaders.

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